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Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Cornell Bird Lab Logo.png
Type Research and conservation institute
Location Ithaca, New York, USA

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a nonprofit, member-supported organization in Ithaca, New York which studies birds and other wildlife. It is housed in the Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity in Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary and is an administrative unit of Cornell University. Approximately 250 scientists, professors, staff, and students work in a variety of programs devoted to the Lab's mission: interpreting and conserving the earth's biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.[1]Work at the Lab is supported primarily by its 30,000 members. The Cornell Lab issues two quarterly publications, Living Bird magazine and the BirdScope newsletter, and manages numerous citizen-science projects and websites, including All About Birds.[2]



The Cornell Lab of Ornithology was founded by Arthur A. "Doc" Allen who lobbied for creation of the country's first graduate program in ornithology, established at Cornell University in 1915. Initially, the Lab of Ornithology was housed in the university's entomology and limnology department.[3]

Birder/businessman Lyman Stuart, donors, and landowners purchased or donated farmland in 1954 which was set aside for the sanctuary. Stuart helped finance the construction of the first Lab building in 1957. Lab founder Arthur Allen, with colleagues Louis Agassiz Fuertes, James Gutsell, and Francis Harper, had dubbed the area Sapsucker Woods after discovering the first breeding Yellow-bellied Sapsucker ever reported in the Cayuga Basin. This woodpecker in now common in the area and is part of the Cornell Lab's logo.

Today the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is housed in the Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity which opened in summer 2003.

Building and Grounds

The 226-acre Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary contains more than four miles of trails taking visitors around Sapsucker Pond, on boardwalks, through wetlands and forest. More than 200 species of birds have been recorded in the sanctuary. Approximately 55,000 people visit the sanctuary and public areas of the Cornell Lab each year.[4]

The Visitors' Center observatory features a 30-foot wall of windows, seating, a fireplace, and spotting scopes. The Bartels Theater shows high-definition movies about birds and nature. A sound studio and kiosks educate visitors about bird and animal sounds. The Wild Birds Unlimited at Sapsucker Woods gift shop is also located in the observatory. Other attractions include a multimedia program, wildlife artwork, a reconstructed study with murals by renowned painter Louis Agassiz Fuertes, a smaller second-floor observatory, and the Adelson Library which contains historical and contemporary ornithological materials, including an extensive collection of monographs and journals.[5]

Citizen Science

Collecting the observations of everyday birders for scientific use is a hallmark of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Bird watchers of all ages and skill levels help gather the data needed to capture the big picture about the distribution and abundance of birds. Approximately 200,000 people participate in the Lab's projects.[6]

The observations of citizen scientists have helped document the declines of some species, the range expansions of others, and the spread of avian diseases. The observations of birders help the Cornell Lab study birds in cities, suburbs, and forests and help answer questions about how proximity to humans, pollution, climate change, and loss of habitat affect different species.

The Cornell Lab's citizen-science projects take place in all seasons and include Project FeederWatch,[7] NestWatch,[8] Celebrate Urban Birds,[9] Birds in Forested Landscapes,[10] CamClickr,[11] and two projects in partnership with the National Audubon Society: eBird[12] and the Great Backyard Bird Count.[13] The Cornell Lab operates many NestCams [14]which capture live video of nesting birds in the spring.

Educational Resources

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has multiple ways for people to learn more about birds.[15] More structured avenues include the self-paced, college-level Home Study Course in Bird Biology.[16] The BirdSleuth curriculum is designed to help elementary and middle-school students discover science through bird projects. [17]A five-week online course "Courtship and Rivalry in Birds" is now available through eCornell.

The Lab is also runs the subscription resource Birds of North America Online, which contains all the latest scientific research available for each North American species and includes sounds, images, and some video.[18]

Informal resources include the All About Birds website with its online bird guide with pictures, sounds, and video for hundreds of North American bird species.[19] A new video series called Inside Birding provides tips from the experts on how to get more out of the pastime.[20]


Cornell Lab scientists, students, and visiting scholars are carrying on much original research in behavioral ecology, conservation, education, evolutionary biology, information systems, and population genetics. Cornell Lab engineers also develop hardware and software tools used in researching bird and animal communication and patterns of movement.

In the Evolutionary Biology laboratory researchers are extracting DNA from living birds or specimens to uncover the relationships among species. [21]

In addition to countless studies and published papers, the Cornell Lab's Conservation Science Department has produced land managers' guides aimed at conserving dwindling populations of Scarlet Tanagers, Wood Thrushes, and other forest birds.[22] The Lab worked with Partners in Flight to identify rapidly-declining species and produce the first North American Landbird Conservation Plan.[23] Lab staff also worked with multiple partners to create the first-ever State of the Birds report in March 2009.[24]

The Lab's Neotropical Bird Conservation Program is gathering baseline data about bird populations in Mexico, where many North American birds spend their winters, and helping colleagues in other countries with conservation training and resources.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology led the scientific arm of the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 2004 to 2009. [25]

Lab scientists are currently involved with partners from industry, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations in setting research priorities to better understand the impact of wind power facilities on birds and bats.[26]

Bioacoustics Research

The Lab's Bioacoustics Research Program (BRP) creates remote recording devices used by researchers in projects around the world.[27] These autonomous recording units (ARUs) consist of a hard drive, housing, and microphone array [28]that can be mounted in a forest or anchored to the ocean floor. [29] ARUs have been used in the Elephant Listening Project in Africa,[30] studies of whales,[31] and in the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. [32]

BRP has also developed sound-analysis software programs called Raven and Raven Lite.[33] Engineers are working on programmable radio tags to track birds and other animals for longer periods of time and to follow bird migrations.[34]

Sound Archives

From its earliest days, the Cornell Lab has had a special interest in bird and animal sounds. Founder Arthur Allen and his students were pioneers in the field, recording the first bird songs on a film sound track.

The world's largest collection of natural sounds is held in the climate-controlled archives of the Lab's Macaulay Library. There are more than 165,000 recordings of birds, bats, whales, insects, frogs, elephants, and other animals.[35] Macaulay Library recordists continue to mount expeditions to collect wildlife sounds and images from around the world to expand the archive.[36]

These sounds are used by researchers around the world. They have also been used in everything from museum exhibits and Hollywood movies to singing alarm clocks and handheld PDAs that help users identify birds in the field. These sounds are used in the Cornell Lab's extensive list of audio guides. The Macaulay Library also contains a growing collection of high-definition video. Anyone can listen to recordings and watch videos in the archive.

Each year the experts from Macaulay Library hold the week-long Sound Recording Workshop in the Tahoe National Forest. Participants learn how to effectively handle a portable field recording system to make scientifically accurate recordings.[37]

Information Science

The Information Science unit creates the underlying structure that makes the Cornell Lab's citizen-science projects work.[38] It also converts massive amounts of data into charts, maps, and tables. Computer programmers at the Lab built the infrastructure for the Birds of North America Online and are now coordinating the Avian Knowledge Network, an unprecedented effort to link bird data records kept at institutions all over the Western Hemisphere. As of October 2009, the AKN contained more than 66.5 million records, accessible to anyone.[39]

Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates

The Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates is also housed in the Johnson Center and holds 1,000,000 specimens of fish, 45,000 birds, 3,200 eggs, and 15,000 each of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, some now extinct. Students and scientists use the collections in their studies.[40]




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  1. Living Bird Magazine, Autumn 2003, ISSN 1059-521-X

External links

Coordinates: 42°28′48″N 76°27′04″W / 42.4800°N 76.4511°W / 42.4800; -76.4511

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is an institute whose mission is “To interpret and conserve the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.” The lab is associated with Cornell University and has several faculty on site as well as nonfaculty directors, students, and a large staff of scientists, educators, web developers, communications and marketing specialists, and program administrators. The lab is focused mainly on birds, but also does research, more generally, on biological diversity; specific programs include citizen science, bird population studies, a bioacoustics research program, an evolutionary biology program, and the Macaulay Library, the largest collection of animal sounds in the world, with more than 160,000 recordings and a growing archive of natural history video--many now included in the Birds of North America online resource. The library also provides most of the bird sounds to the radio program, BirdNote. In addition, the lab publishes Living Bird magazine, edited by Tim Gallagher.[1].

Citizen science projects include Project FeederWatch, NestWatch, eBird, Celebrate Urban Birds, The Great Backyard Bird Count, The House Finch Disease Survey, Birds in Forested Landscapes, and the virtual citizen science project, CamClickr. Together, the lab's citizen science projects engage more than 200,000 people across North America and beyond. The lab is located in the Sapsucker Woods in Ithaca, New York, and includes trails that are open 365 days a year.

The lab's main library, the Adelson Library, part of the Cornell University Library system, contains historical and contemporary ornithological materials, including an extensive collection of monographs and journals.

In the spring of 2005, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology announced that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, thought to have been extinct for decades, had been rediscovered in Arkansas. They presented a video as evidence. This was challenged by a team led by David A. Sibley and by Jerome Jackson of Florida Gulf Coast University. They identified the bird on the video as a Pileated Woodpecker. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology rebuffed these claims in return. The debate is still ongoing about the existence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.[2]


  1. "Living Bird, Autumn 2008 Issue, Cornell Lab of Orn". Retrieved on 2009-04-11. 
  2. Hayes, Floyd E.; William K. Hayes (2007). "The Great Ivory-billed Woodpecker Debate: Perceptions of the Evidence" (PDF). Birding Magazine. American Birding Association. Retrieved on 11 May 2007. 

External links

Coordinates: 42°28′48″N 76°27′04″W / 42.4800°N 76.4511°W / 42.4800; -76.4511


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